Section: Arts

“Fun Home” sells out Black Box, brings chilling dark humor

As an avid fan of musical theater, I made it a mission of mine to attend most of the Kenyon College Player’s (KCP) musical productions during my four years here. From “Next to Normal” to “Legally Blonde” to “American Idiot,” all of the shows I attended have been such a joy to watch from the audience, and it takes all I have not to sing along. But none of them brought me to tears quite like their April 21-23 run of “Fun Home” — KCP’s first musical production in over two years, after the pandemic and the sudden cancellation of “Godspell.” 

Based on a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home” traces the complicated lives of the Bechdel family from the perspective of Alison, as she recounts her childhood trauma and comes to terms with her own sexuality. Most notably, the 2015 musical is the first with a lesbian protagonist to make its way to the Broadway stage, and has since received five Tony awards for its success — including Best Musical in 2015. 

Knowing all of this, I was excited to make my way to the Harlene Marley Black Box Theater on Saturday. With its intimate setting, the Black Box was the perfect location to help the rawness of harrowing scenes come to life. The set design was simple but effective: The Bechdel family’s living room occupied one side of the room, with Big Alison, played by AJ Gluck ’25 perched on the other side surrounded by her comics, serving as the narrator while she watched scenes of her childhood unfold before her. 

Gluck perfectly encapsulated the dark, sarcastic commentary of Alison as she remembered her uncomfortable past: learning of her father’s affairs with younger men, being told that she could only wear dresses and, ultimately, her father dying by suicide. Caleb Stern ’23, who played Bruce Bechdel — Alison’s father — was also a memorable part of the performance. He managed to evoke sympathy from the audience despite playing a particularly unlikeable character, a testament to his well-rounded skills as an actor. 

An especially chilling scene was when Medium Alison, played by Theresa Carr ’23, returned home from college to introduce her girlfriend to her parents. Though she expected them to be supportive of her coming out, her mother was short and curt in response, seemingly harboring the guilt of her husband’s affairs. Her mother, played by Kaiya Case ’22, then sang a soulful ballad called “Days and Days,” mourning the days she had lost because of her husband. Though it was a song filled with heavy subject matter, Case captured the intense emotional turmoil that a mother feels in protecting her children from hardships. 

The show’s music, written by Jeanine Tesori and conducted by Jana Heckerman ’22, was one of the notable highlights of the night. Moments of intense anguish for the Bechdel family were juxtaposed against scenes of carefree happiness through songs like “Raincoat of Love,” which helped showcase the production’s ironic sense of humor, and the sudden crippling loss of childhood innocence.

Autumn Gomez-Tagle ’22, who directed the production, was proud of the way the show turned out. 

“Fun Home is one of those rare stories that resonates with something true in just about everyone who reads or watches it,” she wrote in a message to the Collegian. “I felt the weight of that truth on my shoulders as I worked on this production, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I’m thankful to say that with a brilliant team and unbelievable cast I truly think we made something beautiful.”

Overall, the musical served as a moving revival of KCP’s productions. The campus had definitely felt a void without these productions for the past two years, as evidenced by the weekend full of sold-out performances. I was glad to make it out to witness the last KCP musical of my college experience.

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